By Scott Eddy
Athletics Communications Director
While the St. Bonaventure University cross country teams had performances to remember last weekend at the Gettysburg Invitational, the showings of the Bonnies on the course won't be the only thing team members remember about the trip.
The Bonnies will also take with them their opportunity to experience a valuable piece of American history.
Prior to competing on Saturday, Oct. 14, Bonnies cross country received a unique experience on the famous Gettysburg battlefield.
Upon arriving in Gettysburg the afternoon prior to the meet, the Bonnies scouted the course during a practice session before meeting with a special guest. Retired Lt. Col. Dr. Bill Knowlton joined the teams for a special guided tour of the battlefield.
Colonel Knowlton described the battle most historians call the turning point of the American Civil War to the team members while showing them some of the most important spots of the battlefield. Colonel Knowlton shared his vast knowledge with the Bonnies student-athletes – he graduated from West Point in 1970 and served 22 years of active duty in the Army, holding numerous leadership and staff positions including serving in combat as an armored cavalry platoon leader in Vietnam. He also served as a tank battalion operations and executive officer in Korea and in developing leadership policy on the Army staff at the Pentagon. After teaching leadership at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, he retired from the Army in 1992 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Among his other accolades, Colonel Knowlton's experience makes him one of the best guides of the Gettysburg battlefield possible. Through his career, he has studied the Civil War for more than 50 years and led numerous "staff rides" – the examination of the battle from a military perspective.
"I enjoy sharing my knowledge of the battle with others, particularly with those like the St. Bonaventure team who may not have toured the battlefield before or known much about the battle," Knowlton said. "Gettysburg can be a confusing battle because it stretched over three days with the troops fighting over the same ground on different days, and I've found that providing a sequential narration about the battle while walking the ground is the best way to make sense of it."
Included in the stops on the Bonnies' trek around the battlefield were Oak Hill, where Knowlton detailed the first day of the battle and how the three infamous days in 1863 began to unfold; Little Round Top and the spot where the 20th Maine held strong against Confederate attacks on the Union line; and a trek across the length of Pickett's Charge.
"Walking Pickett's Charge can be an incredible experience if you can put yourself in the place of those who made that charge and get an idea of how terrifying it must have been to advance at a walk across that mile or so of open ground while under fire," Knowlton said.
Along the way, he also shared why the study of the battle remains relevant today.
"The value of studying the battle for those serving in the military today is examining the leadership and decision-making in the battle," Knowlton said. "Tactics and technology change, but leadership remains a constant."
The opportunity to both excel in competition while also learning knowledge that can help in the classroom and beyond are pinnacles of the Bonnies program, head coach Bob MacFarlane says.
"When we recruit, I always emphasize that our kids are student-athletes and that both parts of that term are equally important," MacFarlane said. "This was the ultimate example of that. It doesn't matter what degree our kids are pursuing, this is an enrichment program where everyone got a chance to learn about history and then run on historical, hallowed grounds. It is an experience that not too many kids have a chance to be a part of."
The next day, the Bonnies took to the historical battlefields to compete. It was another strong performance for the teams – the women continued their impressive season by finishing third out of 31 teams at one of the region's largest events, their second consecutive meet finishing in the top three. The men took an 11th place finish out of 25 teams at the event. Many of the Bonnies either PR'd or came near their personal best times.
Between the times turned in during the races and their tour of the battlefield, the trip is one the Bonnies aren't likely to soon forget.
"We were very lucky for Colonel Knowlton to take time to share his experience with us," MacFarlane emphasized. "Students can learn a lot in a classroom, but to see it first-hand is something that can't be replaced."
|Above, retired Lt. Col. Dr. Bill Knowlton describes the fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg at Little Round Top.|
|Above left, the Bonnies listen to Knowlton talk about the first day's battle on Oak Hill.|
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